Emo, drama queens, adversity

edited April 2007 in Story Games
TonyLB asked me to start this new thread to expand on things I said about 'emo' and 'drama queens' in the My Beef With Graham discussion.

To paraphrase myself: I have certain friends who, in real life, faced with no conflict or opposition, will gladly initiate strife.
I called them 'drama queens'. This does spice-up life, just like more adversity spices-up a game.

But I also used the pejorative term 'emo posturing' to describe this, as-in: the cliche of a privileged suburban kid who sings about angst and suffering;
because they think it makes them sound interesting/ dark/ sensitive/ profound/ punk/ whatever. Despite the kid's lack of actual external adversity.

I applied this to story games by saying that systems which ask players to author adversity for their own character-- are too close for my comfort--
to asking us to indulge in emo/drama-queen smoke & mirrors.

Whereas systems which generate adverse results mechanically (or via the actions of a different player than the one controlling the affected-character)
allow each player to embrace their own character's interest unequivocally.

I raised all-this in defense of games which DO dictate a win/lose result, beyond the control of the affected PC's player.
Regardless of whether that player would have preferred to explore the other outcome.

I'm talking about games which which DON'T 'empower' players to shop between outcomes and choose freely (with mechanical consequences)
whichever outcome suits their desired-direction for the story to progress.

Comments

  • edited April 2007
    Hm. I've seen quoted in several places the "Czege Principle" -- which is generally cited as:

    “When the same person is the author of both a character’s adversity and its resolution, play isn’t fun.”

    For example, it was quoted this way in Joao Mendes' post "Murk and the Fundamental Structure of RPGs". However, I don't think that's anything which Paul Czege actually said. After some searching, I think it started with Paul Czege's post on the Forge, "how we played Chalk Outlines".
  • edited April 2007
    Curly,

    Yeah, unless I'm reading you wrong, this is the Czege Principle.

    EDIT:
    Oh... I have a suspicion that what Tony is talking about here
    Posted By: TonyLBIn my experience, it's a lot more like "Why would I trust someamateurto hose my character, when I can and will do so much more thorough, horrific and disfiguring a job of hosing him myself?"

    I've seen an assumption floated (fairly often) that people who want tocontrolwhen and how their characters get hosed would only do so in order toavoidtheir characters getting hosed. That doesn't mesh well with my experience that most people I play with want that control in order to more artistically and painfully hose their own characters. YMMV.
    is something different than what you're imagining for
    Posted By: Call Me CurlyI applied this to story games by saying that systems which ask players to author adversity for their own character-- are too close for my comfort--
    to asking us to indulge in emo/drama-queen smoke & mirrors.
    but I'll let you and Tony hash that out.

    Bringing in examples of games which supposedly do or don't have these traits would probably be wise.
  • Posted By: jhkim“When the same person is the author of both a character’s adversity and its resolution, play isn’t fun.”
    Huh.

    I don't think that's true. But then, I also don't think that real, true 'sole authorship' ever actually exists in any kind of a lasting sense in the context of an RPG. Ah, well.
  • Well, I agree that situations where sole authorship really exists are few and far between in gaming, and so if you read that "Czege Principle" very literally, it's not all that useful.

    Stick a weasel-word like "mostly" or "primarily" in there, though, and it's a perfect match to my own experience. Certainly when I'm playing a character, I don't like being in charge of both creating and describing my own character's problems AND creating and describing the way that problem is ultimately resolved. I want someone else's input in there, if only to assure myself that there is at least one other person at the table who I can play off of and interact with. I'm not showing up every week to perform a one-man show or tell a story to my friends, after all: I want to play with them. If sole authorship (or even something as close to sole authorship as an RPG can provide) was what I was aiming for, I'd just stay home.

    Put another way, I don't mind making suggestions about what kind of conflict to hit a character with or ideas for how things might work out in the end, but for me to really connect with the climactic scenes and have fun in the game, I need someone else on the "other side" of the conflict, someone who will throw unexpected things at me to react to and who will react to the unexpected things I throw at them.
  • Okay, actual-play example time: I'm playing Anvil-Lord Roland in Burning Empires these days. He is the second son of the Forged Lord of the planet, but he's now first in line because his brother Sebastian (played by my buddy Eric) disgraced himself so thoroughly. Sebastian's been hunted for years, and Roland hate-hate-HATEs him in the way that only a very loving brother who feels utterly betrayed can hate.

    But that's not the thing. Sebastian had a fiance, Skuld. Roland loved Skuld even back when Sebastian was the golden boy. He got very good at suppressing those feelings, and dealing with her on a purely formal level. Roland inherited her as fiance when Sebastian became unavailable, but he hasn't stopped treating her as if she's off-limits romantically. Also, Skuld still loves (and hates) Sebastian, and while she thinks she's subtle about it ... she's not. Messy, yes? It gets worse when Roland captures Sebastian in his father's name, and Skuld is assigned the task of prosecuting him for his many crimes, but everyone is hinting that Sebastian may get away with a slap on the wrist and be reinstated as both heir and fiance.

    Mind you, Eric and I came up with this shit. Sydney, our GM, is happy to play it to the hilt, but this is all material that we created in order to make our characters bleed.

    Last wednesday, Roland drew Skuld into a verbal cage-match over the subject of Sebastian. He came right out and said that he thought, as his future wife, she should have refused the job of prosecuting him. Skuld replied that she's a good soldier, and she's not going to let someone who MIGHT marry her some day change that. I had Roland reply by savagely kissing her. She slapped him, naturally.

    That whole sequence, to me, is about screwing over Roland, and Skuld and Sebastian ... ramping the angst and dysfunction of the situation up to 11 and letting it rip.

    I simply don't know if that's the same thing that Curly is talking about when he discusses Emo Drama Queens. Maybe this kind of play turns his stomach. It's not for everyone. But it is play that I, myself, like so very much that my first instinct is to trot out the old saw of "Oh ... if he thinks he doesn't like it then he must not understand."

    Hopefully the leavening of actual play will help us to figure out where our disagreements here arise.
  • Posted By: Accounting for Tastebut for me to really connect with the climactic scenes and have fun in the game, Ineedsomeone else on the "other side" of the conflict, someone who will throw unexpected things at me to react to and who will react to the unexpected things I throw at them.
    See, that the bit that I might be confused on.

    Say that I initiate a conflict with you. Let's further say that I get to decide how my actions in it go, and you handle your actions.

    Now, either of us can "resolve" this conflict immediately, at any time. We are never stuck in.

    Did I author it? Because I can sure resolve it.

    Now, if the idea is that "Playing with yourself and nobody else is not fun group play.", then I agree. But so long as the conflict has other players in it, one of them can initiate, lead, and resolve it, and as long as the other introduce elements that are more than just "color" (twists on the nature of the conflict, f'rex) I've seen good play come from that.
  • Posted By: TonyLBThat whole sequence, to me, is about screwing over Roland, and Skuld and Sebastian ... ramping the angst and dysfunction of the situation up to 11 and letting it rip.

    I simply don't know if that's the same thing that Curly is talking about when he discusses Emo Drama Queens. Maybe this kind of play turns his stomach. It's not for everyone. But it is play that I, myself, like so very much that my first instinct is to trot out the old saw of "Oh ... if he thinks he doesn't like it then he must not understand."

    Hopefully the leavening of actual play will help us to figure out where our disagreements here arise.
    I'm not Curly, but I thought I'd offer my own comments. I think the Czege Principle as expressed sounds like a good rule of thumb, but there may be exceptions. I'd distinguish two things here:

    1) Setting up a situation outside of active play is different than playing your own opposition within play. So, say, taking a "Hunted" disadvantage is different than playing the enemy as he hunts down your PC. The former doesn't even relate to the Czege principle or Curly's complaint, I think.

    2) I can't quite tell from the description whether this involves. I have at least a similar feeling to Curly's. In both role-playing and in non-interactive media, there are certain characters that I find extremely frustrating. By their behavior, they make trouble for themselves to the point that I just want to slap them around. Of course, if I cares enough about a fictional character to want to slap them around, then the fiction is doing something right -- but it can still be darn annoying

    I can't tell from the description if Roland gives any of that vibe. The question would be, does Roland actually seem to be trying to improve things for himself? Or do I get the vibe that he is doing things simply in order to cause trouble for himself?

    If he did, it wouldn't be the end of the world or anything, but it can be off-putting. It depends on the context, though. I'm in the middle of a With Great Power... game right now, and it has a similar vibe to me. The players are motivated to damage the things the PC cares about, although not too badly. However, it comes across as a self-aware commentary or parody. The players aren't providing their own adversity on the game level -- but they are on an in-character level.
  • John: FWIW, Roland is trying to improve his life ... he is trying quite hard to kill his older brother. Once Sebastian is dead everything will be perfect forever.
  • Posted By: TonyLBOnce (insert condition here)everything will be perfect forever.
    This is, in my opinion, the root of all evil, and as such, the core of good drama.

    The whole Don Quixote thing.
  • See, I think what Tony does is he stirs up a big messy situation for his own character, creating the opportunity for another player (including the GM) to seize on it, twist it around and make a real juicy conflict out of it. As opposed to the Czege Principle-violating making up your own conflicts and resolving them yourself. Somebody else is still coming up with the real adversity. It's just more Pull than Push. If the other people at the table are like, "Man, what a load of emo whininess," they're free to not seize on it and present a conflict they think is more interesting.
  • edited April 2007
    Posted By: LarrySee, I think what Tony does is he stirs up a big messy situation for his own character,creating the opportunityfor another player (including the GM) to seize on it, twist it around and make a real juicy conflict out of it. As opposed to the Czege Principle-violating making up your own conflicts and resolving them yourself.
    Exactly. I think the Czege Principle is all about "I have utter control over the creation, introduction, and resolution of this instance of conflict." TonyLB's example doesn't match for a couple of reasons. First, he created and introduced it with the help of another player. Secondly, how it all resolves is far from under his sole control.
  • And yet, I can see the appeal of veto power as a way of maintaining these conflicts ... if not as the sole means of resolving them.

    A GM can (reasonably, to my mind) say "I want to be able to prevent the players from killing off my Big Bad Guy with a lucky shot, because that would trash the situation I've set up." In the same way, I could very well imagine wanting to say "I want to be able to prevent the GM from having Skuld firmly declare her romantic feelings either way, because if that happened it would trash the situation I've set up."

    I don't, personally, feel the need to have that level of control, but I can sympathize. It's not that you want to dictate every single thing that other players do, but you do want to add some constraints that keep them within the (large) space of things that are still cool for you.
  • It still sounds reasonable to me. The veto power you're talking about is more like the ability to set boundary conditions than any sort of real authorship.
  • Sidebar issue: I am fascinated, fascinated, FASCINATED by characters who self-sabotage. Addicts, thrill-junkies, obsessives, unrequited lovers.... I don't honestly see a real good way to satisfyingly play that kind of character if I can't author my own adversity. What I want someone else to do is to make sure it delivers the pain. This kind of adversity isn't meant to be resolved. It's meant to drive play throughout the lifetime of the character.

    Put fundamentally flawed person in position of stress. Watch how he breaks or doesn't. What I don't want to happen is for the character to "get over it." Whatever the outcome of the situation, it should highlight and explore the flaw in my character, not resolve it.
  • Hey Mark,

    Sidebar issue: I am fascinated, fascinated, FASCINATED by characters who self-sabotage. Addicts, thrill-junkies, obsessives, unrequited lovers.... I don't honestly see a real good way to satisfyingly play that kind of character if I can't author my own adversity.

    Hero's Banner. Check out the last few posts on our ongoing actual play thread:

    http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=23416.0

    Paul
  • Posted By: Mark WSidebar issue: I amfascinated, fascinated, FASCINATEDby characters who self-sabotage. Addicts, thrill-junkies, obsessives, unrequited lovers.... I don't honestly see a real good way to satisfyingly play that kind of character if I can't author my own adversity. What I want someone else to do is to make sure it delivers the pain.
    Maybe I'm off base here but setting up the initial conditions for your adversity (ie determining the situation) isn't the same as "authoring" it. Authoring it is actually playing it out. Which from your last sentence I get the sense that you want someone else to do. Using Tony's example, it'd be pretty unfun to have authorship rights during play for Roland, Skuld and Roland's brother. If I'm playing Roland, I want someone else playing the other two characters and playing them to the hilt. I want someone else authoring my adversity.
  • Posted By: Gaerik
    Maybe I'm off base here but setting up the initial conditions for your adversity (ie determining the situation) isn't the same as "authoring" it. Authoring it is actually playing it out.
    I think (although I have neither read nor played HB) that Paul got it a bit more accurately. I want to have this thing (say, "driven by my rivalry with my brother") that is omni-present in my conflicts. No matter whether I win or lose the conflicts, my rivalry with my brother always impacts my choices - and generally for the worse. If I win the hand of Princess Saralinda, it's only to spite my brother, and if I don't, I'll find some way to blame it on him. In general, I don't want another player at the table to be able to define how my rivalry-with-brother manifests itself. I want the other players to provide conflicts that my character cares about winning because of some OTHER goal.

    What I'm getting at is that sometimes "adversity" is situation - and then the Czege Principle applies. Other times, it's character, and then I want it to be mine-all-mine.
  • Ah... I see now. I just wasn't defining the "character" portion of that as adversity. I think I'm in agreement with you.
  • I don't know that self-sabotaging characters violate the Czege Principle. My experience says that such characters author their own adversity but want the resolution to be enforced from outside, in a reversal of the traditional GM/Player trope.
  • edited April 2007
    In this, the quintessential SG actual play example:

    Story Games: *roll of dice* *everyone looks at the roll* "Okay, you overcome your grief."


    we have:

    *the dice determining the outcome of the emo emotion, rather than the CP (character player) merely feeeling that the time is most ripe.
    *nor does anyone spend veto currency to overturn the die result.
    *it is indeed possible to overcome the emotion, rather than be stuck, raking across its nuances in eternal emo rapture ad infinitum.
    *a gm-figure is calling for the roll and interpreting the result, rather than CP fiat.
    *there is no apparent 'shopping' down a list of Keys to buy the most emo-riffic outcome, a la carte.
    *grief is presented as straightforwardly as an orc, so that overcoming it doesn't necessarily require sensitive appreciation of how
    profoundly fraught (fraught!) with signficance the emotional moment truly was.

    All of these strike me as dealing with emotional content without frolicking in the mushy mush too purplishly.



    (the initial specific thing I attempted to tag as 'emo' was much narrower than
    the character motive-driven and emotion-heavy play described by others in
    this discussion thread. This post is more on the same page with what
    everyone else is talking about. It is also meant to be funny.)
  • Curly: I'm still not quite sure what this emo-fraught-stupid stuff that you don't like is. Do you have an actual play example? Otherwise it's sort of hard to speak of this in anything other than negatives ("X, Y and Z are not emo-fraught-stupid"), y'know?
  • edited April 2007
    Tony,

    Imagine an rpg session (or the classroom read-thru of a play script)
    where the players (actors) each had been experiencing
    recent emotional turmoil in their personal lives.

    And, subsequently, without really even trying to make it happen,
    their real life dramas resonate with the fictional drama
    to create an intense, lively, profound, touching, memorable, momentous
    humdinger of an evening.

    That would be great.

    Now imagine another session, where the players are at less emotionally-charged
    moments in their personal lives. In order to experience a similar triumph, the
    players might actively look within themselves, for some spark that they can
    amp-up into lightning. Some players will accomplish this with ease, just as
    some film actors can cry on cue; take after take.

    That result would be great, too.

    But what if a game requires the players to get-themselves-worked-up like that,
    in order to achieve the intended play results? I'd compare that to Method acting,
    which requires the actors to whip -themselves- into an emotional
    frenzy, even if they woke up feeling cool and centered.

    Well, that would be fine if the players are ok with losing their cool in order to get results.

    AND (here's the part I don't think is so great) the players must also be ok with being their
    own provocateurs-- playing both the agent of getting-unhinged/ and the person who gets unhinged.

    What I am saying is, [sometimes] I prefer a game which doesn't require me to get myself worked-up.
    Because getting myself all worked up is too much like indulging in self-pity, unfounded outrage, narcissism,
    believing my own bullshit, training myself to lose my cool instead of to maintain it, taking a test where I
    know all the answers (and then pretending the results have significance).

    If that's clear, then we can discuss specific rules which support each mode of play.

    As an alternative, I've suggested that a game which takes the role of Curly-worker-upper and gives it to either
    an impartial rules mechanic or another player-- and lets me sincerely try to stay cool against a real opposing force;
    and if I lose that struggle, so be it. But I won't have to conflict-my-interest like a boxer 'taking a fall'.
    This alternative is nothing more than the Czege Principle.

    The entire point I was trying to make in the "Beef with Graham" discussion, as well as this here, is that a nice side-effect
    of farming-out the adversity to a source outside the affected-player; is that it allows emotional subject matter,
    while keeping the emotional fireworks optional. Because if the player doesn't want to get all messy, wallowing around
    in the emotions; then the player can leave the feeling of the emotions to the character; and focus on the tactical aspect
    of defending-against the external source of the adversity. Which can be emotional too, of course.

    When adversity isn't tactical, that is to say when it's the player vs. himself, then emotional naval-gazing is the only
    variety of emotional kicks supported. And that's ok. Unless it's mandatory.
  • Is this entirely hypothetical? Like ... have you ever experienced the type of play that you're talking about? I think I'd learn a lot more from actual play than I do from the hypotheticals.

    'cuz, frankly, the links you draw between (a) trying to find a powerful and emotional story within yourself and (b) being a self-indulgent wanker are not convincing to me. I would find it far easier to credit your actual play than I do to give much weight to your guesses about how a type of play you've never engaged in might break down.
  • No, it is not hypothetical.

    Scroll back up to Mark W's last 2 posts. He rejects the Czege Principle when it comes a character issues, wanting inner adversity to be "mine all mine";
    with no meddling by any other players. Nor does he want his character to find a way out of the agony-maze. He explicitly rejects the possibility of his character "getting over" or "resolving" that-which impedes him, and pre-determines that all outcomes will be "generally for the worse". He's unabashedly emo. His recipe for play demands that a player must yank his own chain, and enjoy it.

    An example of my own-- was an impromptu 'let me introduce you to trendy Forge ideas' type of game I played with a woman; in which I suggested she play as 'herself' & I used her actual boss & co-workers as adversaries. Because I've often heard her complain about work, I understand the firm's real life intrigues. So this time I was the emo player, crafting thorny soap opera dilemmas.

    Rather than approach the game like "wow, I really would be taken aback if this stuff did happen one day," she instead made decisions in a purely tactical, robotic way. She didn't take the emotional bait. And because I was trying to demostrate all sorts of indie goodness at once; she had nearly-unchecked ability to narrate, frame stakes, veto, initiate conflict in order to recharge her resources (a dice pool). In short, I was the author of every bit of the adversity; but she had overwhelming power to trump anything I unleashed. The only uncoercive way to balance the game, would be if she 'lent' some of her power to the adversity side; by helping craft ways to trip-up her own character. And she simply wasn't inclined to do so. Either that, or I coulda taken-away some of her 'empowerment'; and given the system or myself Deterministic power to impose adversity on her... cold hard tangible adversity (like a killer janitor with a chainsaw), since she merely shrugged-off the intangible stuff.

    The part that is hypothetical is my suspicion that Keys are a mechanic which works-best with emo-motivated players. I haven't played with Keys, so I don't know.
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